Social determinants of health are key to patient assistance

Safety net programs have long considered income as a key factor in granting assistance. 

Increasingly though, research suggests that patient support organizations, including those that offer charitable assistance, need to consider the social determinants of health at play in each patient’s life.

Financial support remains essential, but when we consider the life and health of a patient, support doesn’t need to be monetary to be significant.  

Nearly one million patients have come to the PAN Foundation through the years for help paying their out-of-pocket treatment costs. At PAN, we primarily serve older adults on Medicare, about half of whom are living on less than $26,000 a year—under 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. 

Our mission is to provide financial support, and over the last few years, we’ve made it our goal to expand the ways we support patients, including evaluating the impact of social determinants on the health of our grant recipients. 

We surveyed 7,500 PAN grant recipients, asking them to share their most pressing concerns relating to six key social determinants of health: healthcare, transportation, daily activities, social support, housing and utilities, and food. 

More than 70 percent of patients reported challenges paying for their basic needs, like housing and heating

Among the same population, more than 80 percent reported concerns about social support, from having someone periodically check on them or help in the case of an emergency, or just having social interaction with others who understand how they are feeling. 

Almost all patients expressed concerns with two or more social determinants, reinforcing that patients dealing with financial toxicity have additional concerns while managing their healthcare. These concerns are exacerbated when factoring in growing healthcare costs.   

80 percent of patients reported concerns about social support

Living with a serious illness is fraught with challenges, and as the adage goes, it takes a village. Most patients look to a variety of organizations for educational resources, financial assistance, and more. 

That is why we created a free screening tool to capture pressing needs related to social determinants of health that can be leveraged by organizations providing support services to patient communities. Based on our research, we recommend that patient support organizations:  

  • Screen all patients for needs beyond financial assistance, even if their primary focus is on healthcare expenses. We recognize this takes time and resources, and we invite you to begin by using our tool.  
  • Screen as soon as possible and at some frequency, rather than waiting for a catastrophic event, like a late payment or a missed medication pick up.  
  • Partner with other organizations to meet the needs of your patients. At PAN, we are proud to refer our patients to a robust network of alliance partners to meet needs that are beyond our scope.  
  • Remember that support doesn’t need to be financial. Some patients are looking for connection, a ride, or even just a conversation. Your organization may not be ready to address these other areas just yet but understanding patient needs is the first step.  

Screening for need is just the beginning and doesn’t address the root causes of systemic issues, but at PAN, we plan to continue working to support the whole patient. Our hope is that this screening tool will allow other organizations to make strides to support patients holistically as well.